Holy See encourages respect, protection of rights of Indigenous Peoples
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Speaking in Geneva during the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council, Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu called for joint efforts to foster “a globalization in solidarity” which respects diverse cultures and ensures the recognition of the inherent dignity of all.
The Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva was speaking on Agenda Item 3, during the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Respect for Indigenous peoples
Addressing the session, Archbishop Nwachukwu warned that disregard for the concrete life of Indigenous people and the imposition of certain predetermined cultural models in the form of “ideological colonization” threatens their traditions, history and religious bonds.”
Already, as recalled by Pope Francis in the Post-Synodal Exhortation Querida Amazonia, many Indigenous peoples “often witnessed helplessly the destruction of the natural surroundings that enabled them to be nourished and kept healthy, to survive and to preserve a way of life in a culture which gave them identity and meaning.”
More so, many have been forced to flee their lands due to increasingly frequent extreme climate events and the exploitation of resources.
The Permanent Observer further stressed that the deprivation of the fundamental relationship between indigenous peoples and their land “endangers the transmission of languages, traditional knowledge and folklore”, and has often led to “undignified living conditions, lack of access to education and adequate health care.”
In light of this, the Archbishop restated the Holy See’s commitment to respecting Indigenous cultures, including their customs, traditions and languages. He also called for efforts towards a “globalization in solidarity” as well as constructive and inclusive dialogue founded on the “recognition of the inherent dignity of every human person and of the values of different peoples, rather than the violent imposition of one cultural model.”
Indigenous women: custodians of traditional knowledge
Archbishop Nwachukwu acknowledged the Special Rapporteur’s report on the rights of Indigenous people and the special focus on the central role of Indigenous women as “scientific and technical knowledge keepers.”
He said that Indigenous women are “custodians of a collective accumulation of important traditional knowledge and skills related in particular to agriculture, health care and natural resource management.”
These skills, the archbishop explained, are transmitted to their children and grandchildren in their vital role as mothers, grandmothers, teachers and caregivers. He, however, expressed concern that despite progress made in some contexts, the fundamental role of women continues to be hindered by racism, discrimination and violence.
Hence, he reaffirmed Pope Francis’s words during his recent Apostolic Journey to Canada, when the Holy Father noted that “women occupy a prominent place as blessed sources not only of physical but also of spiritual life.”